by Santa Shaara
Pastor Smith said we should help others. Didn't that mean handing out a twenty?
The Winter of Love
The winter springs cold upon us. The shock sends us to the fire where we toast our toes and watch each other’s faces being licked by red reflections. I congratulate myself out loud on having pine logs stacked high against the house, but the others only smile. They know how much I enjoyed the chainsaw they gave me this Christmas. Its buzz has frequented their days.
Winter draws a family closer. Like bears we hibernate together, reading or playing in one room. We harvest our collections of treasures -- the puzzle with a thousand pieces that we’ve never once completed, dolls in new hand-sewn clothing, the photos we’ve implanted in albums and longed to share and discuss. We sing around the piano and listen to the pops inside the microwave as our popcorn spreads its own memories with its smells.
Yet, sometimes winters are for foraging. When the glow of winter sun cannot break through the dark gray clouds, and yet, we must set out for provisions, or jobs, or socialization, we wrap ourselves in gloves and scarves, hats and mufflers, and thus, coated, zippered and booted, we journey out into the cold.
Molly and I with our three little girls in tow began such a trip one Saturday morning, shuffling our way through the piles of snow into an icy car. We shivered as we waited for the heater to blast us. The girls were whining before I’d driven more than a mile. Not even offers of hot chocolate in Denny’s warmed them. Although they had blanketed laps, they were miserable, with red noses running and cheeks like frostbite.
Molly and I tried to sing, but the sharpness of our voices mingled with ice breath, and we fell silent. The heater was not blowing warmth. Town was only four miles away, but the girls and I gained an appreciation for polar bear land.
Denny’s was a welcome retreat, and we slid into warmed seats, drank cocoa, and thawed. I left Molly and the girls behind and drove to the garage to have the car looked at. Heaters were in stock. I pulled out my credit card, grimaced at the bill, and watched them change the unit. Within an hour I returned for my wife and girls, and we went about our deeds. New shoes for the girls, a prescription for Susie’s allergies, and a pair of jeans for little Janie… The credit card kept warm going in and out of my wallet.
With groceries in our arms, we were almost ready to leave town and return to the warmth of a good, strong fire and scrambled eggs and waffles -- a treat we appreciated on Saturday nights -- when we passed a homeless family, cuddled up by the side of a building. They were shivering with cold. The woman looked no older than my Molly. Her two little toddler boys appeared to be about the age of my second daughter, Chrissy. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a twenty.
“Here,” I said. “Go get yourselves a hot meal.”
The girls were quiet as we climbed into the car, and then they opened up with flood of questions about the woman and her children and why the family was perched on the cold sidewalk outside Peabody’s Hardware Store. I did my best to answer them, but guilt about why I hadn’t done more was scratching at my brain. The headache it brought made me ask for silence.
There’s nothing worse than hearing your child start to cry like her heart is breaking. I stopped the car and turned around, darting a glance at Molly. Had I been too sharp with my request for silence? Had I sounded angry?
Little Janie was bawling as if her favorite doll had been lost, but she held it clutched in one arm, so I knew that wasn’t the problem.
“What is it, sweetheart,” I asked. “Did Daddy sound mad? I’m not mad, honey.”
Janie’s crying continued. I glanced at my other girls. They looked back at me; their eyes were innocent, as much confused as I by Janie’s tears.
“What’s the matter, baby?” Molly asked, her voice as soft as rain sprinkling on the roof.
“It’s bad to be cold,” she sobbed into her jacket.
“Yes, Janie. But Daddy got the heater fixed. It’s all right now.”
“Not all right. Those boys are cold. Their mommy can’t get a heater. They don’t have a car.”
Snowflakes were falling. The clear skies of our day’s outing were ending. Soon gray clouds would wrap us again in cold damp.
“I gave the family a lot of money, Janie. They’ll be OK. Remember how warm it was in Denny’s?”
“They won’t let you spend the night in Denny’s,” Chrissy joined in.
I examined my oldest, wishing I could argue with her statement, but I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Pastor Smith said that we have to love everybody, Daddy. He said that we can’t turn away from our neighbors. We have to help them.” Susie’s eyes were feverish with conviction.
I looked out at the snowflakes, no longer melting as they hit the metal of the car. The girls were all staring at me, wanting to hear the solution. I started up the engine, turned the car around, and we went back to look for the woman and her two sons.
Her name is Laura, and the boys are Sam and Johnny. They live in Susie’s room for now. Laura is attending secretarial school, and the boys are enrolled in first grade.
Our family has grown a bit this winter, but the fire keeps us warm, and the songs we sing around the fireplace have expanded a bit. We pop two bags of popcorn – twice the smell of butter. The pictures we share have some new smiles, and the thousand-piece puzzle – the one with Jesus and the children gathering within his arms -- for the first time ever, was finished last night when Janie snapped in the last piece.